U.S. authorities tried three times in recent years to get more information from Russian officials about the activities of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, but the Kremlin did not reply, according to a U.S. lawmaker briefed Wednesday night about the investigation into the Boston Marathon bombings.
Emerging from a classified meeting between U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials and the House Select Committee on Intelligence, Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Maryland Democrat, told reporters that after a Russian official provided an initial tip to Washington about Tsarnaev, U.S. authorities “made three inquiries to Russia about this individual to see if they could give us more information or help.”
“When we sent the three inquiries,” he said, “we never got a response back.”
Despite the revelation, Mr. Ruppersburger said Moscow has cooperated closely with U.S. investigators in the days since the Boston bombings and that “going forward we need to work with the Russians,” since Washington and Moscow share significant common ground on combatting terrorism.
The comments came on a day that saw the Obama administration attempt to tamp down media excitement about the bombing investigation, despite suggestive and off-hand comments made about the case by Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Vice President Joseph R. Biden — the latter publicly describing Tsarnaev and his younger brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as “knock-off jihadis.”
Mr. Biden made the remark during an emotional speech in Boston, before more than 4,000 mourners who gathered Wednesday to pay respects to Officer Sean Collier, a member of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology police force who authorities say was fatally ambushed in his cruiser by the Tsarnaev brothers after the April 15 bombings.
With bagpipes wailing, the line of mourners stretched for a half-mile. They had to make their way through tight security, including metal detectors and bomb-sniffing dogs.
In a sign of how things were slowly and painfully getting back to normal in Boston, the site of the bombings near the marathon’s finish line on Boylston Street reopened Wednesday, with freshly poured cement still drying on the repaired sidewalk.
As U.S. authorities continued to investigate the activities and motivations of the Tsarnaev brothers, several lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Wednesday pushed back against the notion that federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies failed to share information with each other ahead of the attack.
“There’s nothing that I’ve seen yet to indicate that there was a stove-piping problem or lack of diligence on any of the agencies’ part,” Rep. Adam B. Schiff, California Democrat, said as he emerged Wednesday evening from the classified briefing.
Mr. Schiff’s remarks were echoed by others on both sides of the aisle including some Republican lawmakers who backed away from claims made Tuesday by some of their party colleagues that the FBI and other federal intelligence agencies had not shared alerts they had received from Russian authorities raising suspicion about the activities of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was killed in a violent shootout with police. His younger brother is in custody at a Boston hospital.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Georgia Republican and the ranking member of the Senate intelligence committee, which was briefed secretly by investigators Tuesday, said it did not yet appear than anyone had “dropped the ball” with regard to warnings ahead of the marathon bombings.
With regard to the Russian warning in particular, Sen. Angus S. King Jr., Maine independent and a member of the committee, said it appears the FBI properly checked it out and found no reason to keep an active case open.
“It wasn’t shoveled under the rug as near as I can tell,” Mr. King said. “I think it’s important to put this into context. Apparently we get something like 20,000 tips a year about people who might potentially be involved in terrorism, and they were followed up as they were in this case with a rather detailed background check.”
The Obama administration, meanwhile, sought to downplay remarks made early Wednesday by Mr. Kerry, who had asserted early in the day that Tamerlan Tsarnaev must have drawn inspiration for the attack during a trip he made to Chechnya.